Vicarious Violence

on July 14, 2014 in Misc

lee child

Do you know why so many women love Lee Child’s tough-as-nails Jack Reacher novels?

Because Reacher metes out his personal brand of justice.  If necessary, it’s bloody vigilante justice.

Are you surprised? I’m not.  But Child was when over a hundred women came to one of his book signings and he talked with them.  Turned out they were fans because they think Reacher is hot and they have fantasy affairs with the character.  But the main reason was, to quote Child:

[Women] “find it difficult to express anger.  An angry man is seen as assertive, and an angry woman is seen as shrill.  So they are perpetually conflicted about anger, and they love to read about it on the page, vicariously—they want to see somebody kick somebody else’s butt, because they actually can’t do it themselves.”

For me the sad part of that statement is THEY CAN’T ACTUALLY DO IT THEMSELVES.

Why not?

Now, I’m not talking revenge when a boyfriend or girlfriend dumps each other, or when a husband or wife cheats.  What happens in Child’s novels are serious crimes that destroy people and lives.  Jack Reacher comes into the situation and fixes things, and always there’s some violence.  Yet many women in real life can’t imagine themselves doing the same in a similar extreme situation?

Jack reacher

Maybe I’m an oddball, because I think I could seriously, physically kick butt if I had to.  Then again, I’ve only had to do so in minor incidents, like that time in Cairo when I grabbed a teenager and threatened to kill him because he brushed his thumb against my crotch.

Also unlike most of Lee’s female fans, I have no difficulty expressing anger.  In fact, my problem is keeping my Irish temper under control if I get pushed to my limit.  But I’m glad to report that as I’ve gotten older I’ve mellowed.

What I do find interesting is how these traits have affected my writing.  In The Compass Master, Layla can and does physically defend herself and wounds her attacker.  When I was writing that scene I really felt myself in her mind and body as she fought, and I enjoyed writing it.  In my Charity MacCay manuscripts, Charity is younger, much more impulsive, and wildly optimistic about her chances of righting a wrong.  But she does outrageously right a few wrongs done to her, which I noticed strongly appeals to my female readers.  My mother called me the minute she finished the second manuscript and exclaimed, “I’m so glad she shot that man!”

Gee, thanks, Mom.  So glad you liked that part.

Anyway, I like to think that if pushed to the wall by bad people I would fight like a hellcat.  How about you?  Have you ever wondered what you’re capable of in real life?  Would you live vicariously through your favorite character, or is that character in some ways a true expression of you and what you would do?

8 Responses to “Vicarious Violence”

  1. Never thought that it would be more difficult for a woman to express anger. I know if someone I loved was threatened, I’d go to any lengths to protect that person.

  2. Helena says:

    Alex – You’d be a real Ninja in a fight.

  3. Oh I know several women out here in the west that are tougher than men (including myself). One dominates her boyfriend so much that it’s sad. Another is an abused husband (yes, there is such a thing).

  4. My characters are much braver than I am, but I’d like to think I have a smidgen of that bravery in me if I find myself in a position where I need it. I do know that I never fall apart in an emergency situation. Just the opposite. I turn unto a take-charge, order-giving machine.

  5. Helena says:

    Mike – There are indeed abused men. I hope your two friends get away from their girlfriend and wife.

  6. Helena says:

    Carol – I can really see you being in charge and doing just great.

  7. Clarissa Draper says:

    Um, why would they say that? Ever hear of the expression “Don’t come between a momma bear and her cub? Seriously, women can kick butt if they have to.

  8. Helena says:

    Clarissa – A momma cub is ferocious! So I do wonder why the women at that reading said they have trouble expressing anger. Maybe Lee Child has a higher percentage of repressed readers? Maybe these women are underestimating themselves?